HATBORO, Pa. — It’s the top of the ninth inning at Citizens Bank Park, and the Philadelphia Phillies helpers are at it again. They’ve already lost a lead, with Jeurys Familia and Seranthony Domínguez giving up on the seventh homer. Now, after a comeback, the game has unraveled with Corey Knebel closer on the mound.
The Miami Marlins win 11-9 and Matt Edwards sighs from his living room couch here in the suburbs.
“Celebrating some of these guys is really hard,” he said.
Indeed, the Phillies are the only National League team not to make a playoff in the last 10 years, and their bullpen is an annual adventure. Nostalgia can be a tempting escape (beer helps, too), and nobody celebrates the past like Edwards, a 45-year-old telecoms salesman with a wife, Cheryl, two young sons, a Great Dane — and a shrine in his downstairs bathroom to retired Phillies -Relief jugs.
“We’re very aware that we weren’t one of the five starters or any of the guys on the field,” said Chad Durbin, who spent four seasons as a backup for the Phillies. “But you know, we’ve had our moments. So if we remember, we accept it.”
Durbin recorded 225 games for the Phillies, including the postseason, with a 4.07 earned running average. He has endorsed five other teams, but as far as he knows, none of their fans have his picture in their bathroom. As you can imagine, Durbin is also not inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “But in the Relief Room it is.”
Edwards calls his bathroom the Relief Room because that’s where you go to relieve yourself. That’s the joke.
Edwards played third base in little league and left the field in men’s softball. His sons are not pitchers. His favorite active player is a first baseman, Rhys Hoskins of the Phillies. But like a comedian who finds endless material by committing to his cause, Edwards has created a brand around players who get no respect, no respect at all.
“I remember opening packs of cards and seeing a mustache and thinking, ‘Oh, that’s Mike Schmidt’ — and no, it’s Dan Schatzeder,” he said in his home office, which is overflowing with artifacts that don’t quite match at the 3ft by 8ft museum around the corner.
“But that was the joy of going through maps and trying to find this guy. Well, now I don’t want the Mike Schmidts or the Bryce Harpers. I want to support the guys like Schatzeder and Andy Carter and Amalio Carreño because nobody does. Celebrating the little guy no one remembers is more memorable than talking about the stars because everyone knows about them.
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“Relax, okay? Don’t try to beat everyone. Deletion is boring! Also, they are fascist. Throw some groundballs, it’s more democratic.”
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“Nobody knows anything about Tyson Brummett. He’s one of the cup-coffee guys. So it became a cup of coffee – enjoy a cup of coffee with Erskine Thomason.”
Edwards reaches for a custom-made mug featuring the black and white face of Thomason, who on September 18, 1974, went down the ninth inning of a loss in his only major league appearance. The definitive statistical website, Baseball Reference, uses a blank header image with a question mark next to Thomason’s name. That would be blasphemy for Edwards.
He knows Thomason was the subject of an NFL Films documentary and that the filmmakers who’ve followed him all season somehow missed his only game and had to restage the footage. He also knows that Brummett set up a game in 2012 and later died in a plane crash. He knows Carter got kicked out of his first major league game and Carreño got kicked out of his last.
And, of course, he knows that Schatzeder spent many years as a gym teacher at an Illinois high school.
“If you look at this guy, you can picture him in a tracksuit with a whistle around his neck,” Edwards said. “That’s great. Who will sing his song from the top of a mountain? If not me, then who?”
For Edwards, there is sincerity in satire. He remembers how exciting it was when a high school classmate was drafted by the Mets that a major league team wanted someone he knew. Fewer than 23,000 people have ever played a game in the majors; You could put them all in the old Veterans Stadium with 40,000+ seats.
They all have stories, and if they happen to have campaigned for the Phillies, Edwards sees it as his job to tell them. An English major at the University of New Hampshire, Edwards reads widely about his subjects, collecting fun facts about each and organizing them by date on his computer. He sends multiple tweets a day to a modest group of followers with a few famous names – at least known to Edwards.
“He loves Tom Hume,” said Scott Eyre, a left-handed specialist from the late 2000s, referring to a bespectacled right-handed man of the 1980s. “He would probably pass out if Tom Hume went into the Relief Room.”
Eyre did so in early 2020 after an autograph gig nearby. (Edwards wore his Hume T-shirt for the occasion.) Eyre, who only knew Edwards from Twitter, was the first responder to actually relieve himself in the Relief Room. This was natural, since he hung out with Edwards for hours well after one in the morning, drinking beer, opening old decks of cards and telling stories about Chuck McElroy, Dan Plesac and other awardees he knew.
A pilgrimage to see a Phillies fan’s bathroom isn’t something Eyre ever expected. Eyre, a native Californian who now lives in North Carolina, once had a no-trade clause with Philadelphia. When the Cubs sent him there in 2008, he asked Jon Lieber, a teammate who had played for the Phillies, what to expect.
“He’s like, ‘Dude, you’re going to love it there, and they’re going to love you,'” Eyre said. “I said, ‘What do you mean by that?’ He said, ‘You’re a stand-up guy and you are who you are.’ And that was spot on. If you go out and do your job and admit the mistakes you make, they will still love you. They just want to yell at you a little, and that’s okay.”
Eyre understood the essence of Philadelphia fans: They always expect to win, no matter the circumstances, and they want to be heard, too. Failure then feels like a personal affront and gives fans license to boo. But they welcome players who don’t apologize and really show they care.
Take Mitch Williams, the only living man to give up a walk-off homer to lose the World Series in 1993, to Toronto’s Joe Carter. Known as The Wild Thing, Williams is a folk hero to Phillies fans and is duly honored in the relief room.
“On a simple level, it’s the mullet and the headband and stuff like that, but he broke it every time out there,” Edwards said. “His bravery, his machismo, the way he strutted around. You could tell he didn’t want to walk anyone, he just wanted to fire strikes and get everyone out. But he was accountable, and that’s huge.”
Williams is among the few known helpers in Edward’s gallery. Most have had smaller influences, such as Kyle Abbott, Josh Lindblom and Wally Ritchie, all of whom follow Edwards on Twitter. They’re among the 300 or so faces that line the bathroom walls, mostly on baseball cards but dozens on larger photos, like the one of Renie Martin above the mirror.
“There’s something new in there,” Edwards’ mother Joann said to him when she noticed. “He looks straight at me and I don’t like his face.”
Martin only played briefly for the Phillies, but Edwards loves that he appeared for Kansas City in the deciding race of the 1980 World Series when Tug McGraw finished the Phillies’ first championship. After the second, in 2008, Edwards’ father Jim hung two photos above the toilet: one of McGraw and the other of Brad Lidge, both celebrating in October.
Edwards bought the house from his father a few years later, kept the photos of McGraw and Lidge and added everything else – the bar of soap depicting Sparky Lyle, the commemorative Ron Reed soda can, the four-sided Kleenex dispenser with Porfi Altamirano, Warren Brusstar, Tom Hilgendorf, and Barry Jones.
The handle of the cabinet is the barrel of a broken Don Carman’s bat; a retired groundsman from the Phillies sent it to Edwards. Greg Harris, an ambidextrous helper, captioned his photo: “Using both hands in the Relief Room.” Artist Dick Perez, once an official artist in the Hall of Fame, donated an original portrait of Hilgendorf – a hero of Edwards who once killed a drowning man rescued a boy from a swimming pool.
“And then this whole ’10 cent beer night’ in Cleveland,” Edwards said. “He’s knocked out with a chair with blood pouring out of it – and in the next game he’s hitting six batters and getting six outs!”
If you need some time in the Relief Room, there’s a basket of vintage magazine issues like Phillies Today featuring Steve Bedrosian and Jeff Parrett in firefighter gear on the front. There is a collection of McGraw’s comic strips from the 1970s and a Guess-The-Mustache flip book. (Failing to recognize Altamirano will automatically result in the loss of a full letter note.)
There are tentative plans for the Relief Room to expand, Edwards said, if he and Cheryl can move the washer-dryer from the adjoining mudroom. For now, though, Edwards needs a spot for his newest treasure: the game-worn cleats of Toby Borland, a sleek 1990s sidearmer. His friends Brain and Mike Carroll bought it on eBay for $30.
The studs could easily fit the wall above the toilet which is mostly empty. But that section is sacred, Edwards said, and reserved exclusively for championship team helpers. The Phillies have been improving lately but are still recovering from a slow start. They may need to summon the spirit of McGraw to make this their year.
“Cheryl says, ‘There’s so much space, do something else with it,'” Edwards said. “I’m waiting. That’s the point. That’s the optimist in me: I’m going to fill this wall.”